Malawi: Roving a Bumpy Road to Meet the MDG on Water

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GEORGE MHANGO
Blantyre, Malawi
September 8, 2012

Neno District in the Southern Region of Malawi will one day lose out from development and business investment if not connected to piped water. Communities had hoped that by declaring it to be a district 10 years ago, this year, water problems would be history. On the contrary, as the area enjoys population growth, only borehole water is available on a minimal scale.

Visits to the area proved that there are three taps situated on the outskirts of the district. This hampers not only communities but institutions to deploy staff to be based there. Close to 3 000 people at the town depend on four boreholes. The whole district according to statistics obtained from the water department office has 478 boreholes.

“Most of these boreholes get damaged in the process of being overused. Maintenance is also a problem because village communities can afford to raise money just for that. It is sad that due to water related problem, some people in T/A Dambe suffered from Typhoid,” says Wyson Kuseli, who works as district water officer in Neno.

Water problems in developing countries are acute and complex

Although, Neno District Hospital and the Clinton-Hunter Development Initiative (CHDI) have a mini-system of pumping water, it only caters for the hospital and their respective staff because of its capacity. The system is also not enough to provide the much need water, deemed to be life among human kind.

“Most of the communities are left out with no option but queue for borehole water together with some members of staff based here,” says Group Village Headman (GVH) Chekucheku, backed by other chiefs that the whole district needs piped water. Under GVH Chekucheku there are four Village Headmen such as Donda, Nkhukuzalira, Helani and Nedi, whose subjects spend sleepless nights on how to convince government to bring portable water there.

With a population of 107 317, Neno has four Traditional Authorities such as Dambe, Chekucheku, Mlauli and Symon. Out of the total population, 58 159 are people under the age of 18, a development that symbolises growth of the town and need for planning. Women too are not amused with the situation. The Southern Region Water Board (SRWB) has since zeroed in to deal with the problem not only in Neno, but various areas in the region.

“Once funded by the World Bank in form of a grant under the National Water Development phase two, work is expected to begin and it will not take four months,” says chief executive officer for SRWB Martin Chizalema.

Water problems faced in Neno are just a tip of the iceberg since most people depend on unprotected water sources countrywide. Challenges on the ground contradict a 2011 Malawi Sector Performance report by the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Development. UNICEF also says water supply in rural areas is at 77 out of the 67 percent while for urban areas it is at 92 out of the 95 percent required by the UN MDG on Water and Sanitation by 2015. Initially, 85 percent of people live in rural areas. To this effect, Unicef is also advocating for provision of safe drinking water and sanitation measures.

A kid stands close to a water tank. Rainwater tanks are vital in water harvest and storage

The 2011 UN report also says Malawi is on course to meeting the MDG on water. But such percentages do not regard the long distances people walk, low water pressure and the damaged boreholes that are staying idle. Water related organisations say, 30 percent of all the boreholes are damaged and were not sunk properly.

Although, this means Malawi is doing well, most major cities and towns still face water problem. In Blantyre alone statistics show production capacity being pegged at 86,000 m3 per day against a population of close to 700 000, something that leads to water shortages in the townships such as Chilobwe, Zingwangwa, Bangwe and Nidrande.

In terms of what needs to be done, Minister of Water and Irrigation Development Ritchie Muheya says government is to provide safe drinking water in both urban and rural areas by initiating a ground water pumping project. “For example, in Dowa and Ntcheu, the system is underway. We are working with donors and local NGOs,” he says.

“However, there is more to be done in Lilongwe and Blantyre. World Bank also helps in the provision of safe drinking water. At the moment, the Northern Region Water Board, Lilongwe Water Board and Blantyre Water Board through the National Water Development Project are expected to improve their efficiencies,” says Muheya.

This is why Blantyre Water Board (BWB) management has secured funding to improve water situation. The European Investment Bank and European Union are funding the project as a loan and grant.

Poor water quality continues to pose a major threat to human health

Apart from Muheya, Minister of Local Government Grace Maseko says plans are on to bring water to beneficiaries of the rural growth centers in the country, former president Bingu wa Mutharika singled out when he was in power.

Water Services Association of Malawi (Wasama), which acts as middle link between government and water service providers has since rolled out its operations to assist in bringing safe drinking water countrywide.

“Previously, it was difficult to monitor operations of water service providers. The plan is in line with the water and sanitation sector that is prioritized in the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS),” says Wasama executive secretary Benedicto Chakhame.

A total of US$ 50 000 was allocated to integrated rural development in the 2012/2013 budget for programmes to do with rural growth centers and market structures, water and sanitation inclusive. Initially, these are clear signs that water in rural and urban areas, which are a must if Malawi is to meet the UN championed MDGs will be provided.

FAST FACTS:

• UN says Lilongwe is course to achieving the MDG on water and sanitation by 2015
• Currently, water supply in rural areas is at 77 and for urban areas at 92 percent
• However, up to 40 percent of all rural water points simply do not work
• World Bank is funding most of the water projects in Malawi
• Jaica is implementing borehole projects in various districts including Neno.
• Neno, one of the rural growth centres has three taps and 478 boreholes.

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